Laura Capitani is a passionate Italian teacher who has been working for over twenty years at the Maastricht University Language Centre. Some years ago, she first became intrigued by the opportunities that e-learning could offer in the language-learning field. Moving away from purely traditional classroom methods, she recognized the potential of the internet and started searching for interactive materials. Since 2013, Laura has successfully used Babbel’s courses as the syllabus to teach Italian at Maastricht University.
Laura Capitani’s course, “Web-based Interactive Italian A1-A2”, is a structured progressive program that brings together elements from a “blended learning” and “flipped classroom” approach. It consists of three phases: learning with Babbel, reinforcing this learning with additional resources, and face-to-face tutorials with Laura.
Babbel at the core of Laura’s teaching approach
Laura’s students start learning Italian using Babbel’s courses. Her self-constructed Google Classroom is a virtual space where her students can find precise learning plans with links to specific Babbel lessons. Based on their university commitments, students can decide how many lessons to take; once they have completed the lessons, they then move on to the second phase where they reinforce what they have learned using extra material. In this phase, Laura integrates additional apps to help students to practice. For example, she takes words from the Babbel lessons and creates interactive activities on study app Quizlet.
In the third and final phase, Laura digitizes her blended-learning approach further by conducting individual face-to-face sessions with the students over Skype. These one-to-one sessions are “the moment of truth”, according to Laura: they are quite intense, but provide the right environment in which to practice speaking skills. Laura concentrates on having the students communicate; she acts mainly as a facilitator by listening and taking the role of the second person in role-plays.
As the Skype sessions can be scheduled on a flexible basis, students can take their time to learn. They have the chance to repeat the Babbel lessons, if necessary, until they feel more confident. As Laura says, “students come to the online session when they feel ready.” As it is one-to-one, learners have the opportunity to focus on areas they find difficult and can rapidly build their confidence, which results in more interaction with their language tutor. With the knowledge that students have already learned the relevant vocabulary and grammar, Laura can design the Skype lessons to focus on spoken communication.
Advantages of blended learning with Babbel
The main advantage for Laura is that she is able to guide her students’ learning experience according to their needs, thus creating personalised paths. Laura can identify problem areas and adjust material accordingly, assigning other Babbel lessons and suggesting specific grammar or vocabulary topics. For example, one of Laura’s students wanted to learn vocabulary around vacations with babies. Laura assigned her some extra vocabulary from the Babbel courses and in the next one-to-one lesson, they reinforced it with personalised role-play scenarios. This would not have been possible in a conventional classroom environment where everybody has different interests.
Students also appreciate the flexibility that comes from an online flipped classroom: they can decide where, when and how to practice. Laura puts it simply: “Most students today are comfortable and familiar with apps and the online world – so giving them the chance to learn in this space is literally ‘speaking their language!’” This allows students to learn on-the-go and around other commitments, without being restricted by a rigid schedule.
Babbel complements and supports traditional language learning
And what do Laura’s students think? They are very satisfied with the Babbel classes because, as Laura points out, “the lessons are fun and my students receive immediate feedback on their performance”. But apart from the fun factor, Laura believes that the impact of Babbel courses on her students is mainly due to Babbel’s method, which as she explains, “trains your brain in slowly learning a language and understanding how it works.”
As a former Italian teacher myself, I know only too well the obstacles that both teachers and learners can encounter in the traditional classroom environment. I believe Laura’s model offers pedagogically sound practices that can easily be implemented to solve some of these difficulties. However, as Laura states, “there is still much skepticism about using online apps and devices when teaching a language.”
But as her model shows, “going online” does not mean abandoning the practices of the traditional classroom method. Babbel’s courses offer the right foundation for learning a language and getting ready to speak: the lessons offer relevant topics that can be used in real life situations, but above all they enable learners to go through vocabulary and grammar at one’s own pace, without a cognitive overload. There is still a tutor (as in a traditional classroom environment) but the skype sessions allow for personalisation and result in increased confidence.
In summary, offering a blended-learning course such as Babbel’s courses, can be a great method for teachers who want to flip the classroom and make the most of their time in lessons. This way, classes can be spent with the students speaking from the very first session, rather than requiring lengthy grammar explanations.
Laura’s approach shows that learning with Babbel can be an effective resource and paves the way for practicing real-life conversations. Autonomous learners without a tutor can also do the same: finding a tandem partner or taking part in a language exchange meet-up can also provide an opportunity to speak in the new language.